I have always had a dying curiosity to see what goes on in the inner sanctum of men. That interest is well-founded. Growing up, I had two older sisters and thus did not get to see the day-to-day actions of boys. I wanted to know, how do men really act when women are not around? Is it bare-chested, knuckle-dragging fun or something a little more dignified? The perfect place for me to insert myself into that world without notice or pageantry is the venerated Superbowl party- the last bastion of collective male brotherhood in North America.
In today’s culture, there are so few things that men do together that mark their maleness. Sure, there are sports teams; office sports polls, and car talk but where do men go who are not interested in that form of collectiveness? What do men do if they don’t watch sports? Are they real men?
Last night, I coaxed a dear friend to go with me to conduct “man research” at the bar. We decided against going the largest sports bar in North America in favour of something a little more local and demure. We were both weary to go deeply into the belly of the beast. We feared the stench of testosterone, the greasy smell of chicken wings and the possibility of things getting ugly (I don’t know exactly what ugly looks like but recall the Vancouver riots last spring prompted by a hockey game).
We opted for a series of smaller downtown sports bars to watch the action. I really wanted to know of the men who were there, how many genuinely enjoyed watching grown men pile up on each other and how many others were there by default, passively feeling some form of adult peer pressure.
We arrived just before the half time show. My friend noted that we were there for the girly part as Madonna bounced and flounced across the stage. I noticed that all eyes were glued on the television screens that circled that parameter of the bar. However, there was little of the anxious fanfare that I was hoping for. It was not an epic expression of male bonding but rather an opportunity for men to simply get together, be a little social, drink beer and eat some wings (though the thought of all those wingless chickens makes me sad). I was surprised and frankly a little disappointed that there was so little macho camaraderie. It felt that most of them were bored and trying to drink enough on a Sunday night to catch a little buzz but not too much to be hung over for work the next day.
I spoke to one man who was a self-professed baseball fanatic who was only there to support his friend. He looked bored and mildly irritated. I spoke to a jersey-clad man who looked forlorn at the end of the game. He confessed the reason why he was blue was that football, being a short 17 week season, was over for the year. He was in it to win it. We spoke to a couple of men who were just happy to be entertained for a couple of hours, away from the house and kids. For them, it could have been cricket, curling or camel racing. Two of my former boyfriends, both of whom have a passing interest in sports, commit to their yearly bout of male togetherness for Superbowl because “that is what real men do”.
Many men feel the requirement to satisfy their need for violence and aggression all behind the safe confines of the television. Eckhart Tolle suggests that this is an over-identification of the ego. Football is a form of ritualized war and heroic sacrifice at a time when many men are separated from their male counterparts. It is modern gladiators in action. New mothers often complain that they feel isolated and alone in their houses all day with their babies. I imagine that men, who used to hunt side by side with their brothers, feel that too.
I went looking for crazed aggressive fans. I did not find them. I found men quietly enjoying the company of other men in a place that supported their maleness. That is not a bad thing. I am sure that if I was in New York or Boston the intensity would have been considerably more frenetic. Maybe Canadian men are not as crazed for football as they are for ice hockey. Maybe if we went to the mega-bar I would have had a better understanding of male competitiveness and reverence for the team. Regardless, it was good to see men being men. Perhaps I will try again during hockey play-offs.